Friday, January 14, 2011

First Friday of Ordinary Time, MMXI

They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

Isaiah 61:4

Man painting Crucifix of ruined Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Today is Friday. As I was praying the Rosary and meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries, I was reminded that it was on a Friday that Our Lord was crucified.

This is the first week of Ordinary time in the Catholic Liturgical year. "Ordinary" in this case refers to the ordinal numbers, which is just another way of saying the "counting numbers".

The Christmas season, which just ended, came to its conclusion with Sunday's Feast of the Baptism of Christ. Apparently this is also the first Sunday of Ordinary time, because this coming Sunday is counted as the second Sunday of Ordinary time. (I suppose this duality of the last Sunday of the Christmas season, and the first Sunday of Ordinary time is one of those minor mysteries of the Catholic Church.)

I was speaking in an earlier post about signs. The baptism of Christ by St. John the Baptist at the Jordan River is one of those signs. It is both visible and invisible. There is an outward sign which is visible and there is an inward reality which is invisible. While we tend to focus our attention on what is accessible to our physical senses, the more important lesson for our minds to grasp is what we cannot see.

Not only can we not see it, but we cannot describe it. It remains a mystery.

The baptism of Christ signifies the beginning of His public ministry. It is the fitting end of the Christmas season begun with the nativity scene. This is what the people of God had been waiting for – Christ, the anointed one, proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

As Jesus performs miracles (signs) many people come to believe, but there are also many who reject His message. From the very beginning of His public ministry, there are those who seek to kill Him.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."

And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"

And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, `Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Caper'na-um, do here also in your own country.'"

And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Eli'jah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Eli'jah was sent to none of them but only to Zar'ephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Eli'sha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Na'aman the Syrian."

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong.

But passing through the midst of them he went away.

 – Luke 4:16-30
At the time that God has chosen, Jesus submits himself to God's will and delivers himself up to be crucified. This is the Passion of the Christ. It is the universal symbol (sign) of Christianity – the Crucifix; the Cross.

As Christians, we all understand that Christ died for our sins; that he sacrificed Himself for us. He is the Agnus Dei, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

What we don't see – and what the Bible does not tell us specifically about – is the spiritual torment which Christ suffered, far beyond the physical torment that He experienced. From the Apostle's Creed we get a glimpse of His spiritual ordeal as we learn that "He descended into Hell".

At that moment, Satan and the evil forces of the world must have thought that they had triumphed, but "on the third day" God emerged triumphant through the Resurrection of Christ.

This is the Gospel – the good news – that God triumphed over Evil; that the light overcame the darkness.

There is a dark shadow over the world today. It is apparent to anyone who is listening to God's message. It has grown from a thin veil to a dense fog. But there is also the shining light of Christianity that is growing and penetrating the fog.

In times like these, we cannot be neutral; those that are not with God are against Him. When Jesus was asked how one could attain eternal life, he affirmed the truth of God's commandments.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."
 – Luke 10:27
This is the opposite of the message that we receive daily through the media. We are told to love ourselves. And we are told that each of us is capable of becoming our own personal deity.

Both of these opposing messages cannot be true. The way in which we live our lives will be profoundly impacted by our choice of which messenger to follow. Do we follow God's messenger, Jesus Christ, or do we follow the messenger of the secular world? It's a choice that each of us has to make.

I know this is very "preachy", and I know that Easter is a long way off. We haven't even begun Lent yet. This is just the first Friday of Ordinary time after Christmas, but I'm eagerly anticipating Easter this year. It was last year on Palm Sunday that I began to attend Mass regularly for the first time in my life.

This year, MMXI, I have resolved to pray the Rosary everyday and so far I have honored that promise to the Virgin Mary. I asked for nothing in return, but what I have received is a tranquility of the spirit and a joy and happiness that I have never experienced before. And along with that has come a renewed sense of energy and of optimism. And a desire to help others and in so doing to share that gift with others.

Prayer request: Please remember Haiti in your prayers.
"For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have Mercy on us and on the whole world."
 – from Chaplet of Divine Mercy

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post, it is a perfect message for right now. I really love it. You have also inspired me to pray the Rosary regularly. That was an excellent idea, to pray it everyday, wonderful.

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  2. Hi MJ. I'm reading a book called >"Seeking Spiritual Direction" by Thomas Dubay. It's very good – even if you're not thinking of seeking out a spiritual director. It has a lot to say about Catholic spiritual life and contemplative prayer. The author emphasizes that the saints are our best role models.

    I mentioned in an earlier post that I have asked the Virgin Mary to serve as my spiritual director, at least for now. I'm very hesitant about accepting someone else as an authority over my spiritual direction. Although the author of the book I'm reading doesn't advise "self-direction", he does say "there is no more sure guide to Him [than Mary]".

    My favorite pope, Leo XIII, wrote many encyclicals exhorting the faithful to pray the Rosary. And Pope John Paul II gave us the Luminous Mysteries. Don't forget to add the Fatima prayer after each decade:

    "O my Jesus, forgive us of our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls into heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy."

    This was a request of Our Lady at Fatima. She also asked that the world be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, which was done by Pope Pius XII on October 31, 1942.

    Good news! Pope John Paul II will be beatified on Divine Mercy Sunday, that is the Sunday after Easter.

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  3. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

    Very wise, still true.

    Excellent article Michael! I think is far from being "preachy" it is instead very inspiring. You mention a dense fog in the world, well, blogs like this one, and the hard work of the Church are examples and light that give hope ti us.

    Keep the good work!
    Good bless you.

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  4. Ride. Thank you for your words of encouragement. It is comments like yours that give me the strength and inspiration to continue writing.

    Luke 10:27 comes just before the widely acclaimed parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable is Jesus' response to the question "Who is my neighbor?" It's not totally clear, but I would guess this is a reference to the issue of Jews vs. Gentiles.

    Jesus clearly responds in the affirmative that the Samaritan, who was not considered part of the Jewish nation should be included in the word "neighbor". Notice also that the commandment to "[Love] your neighbor as yourself", can be considered another way of stating the Golden Rule: "Do unto others."

    This famous parable ends with a strong exhortation by Jesus to be merciful to those in need.

    Luke 10:36-37
    "Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."


    Here Jesus equates love with mercy. The implied promise is that God will be merciful to us, in the same way that we are merciful towards others. Jesus expresses this even more explicitly in the Our Father (Lord's Prayer).

    May God's peace be with you,
    Michael

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